Mensa hosts NPR show

40310644_1968739973165318_6812985245869015040_oYou may have heard, or maybe not, but American Mensa is co-sponsoring five episodes of the NPR radio show Ask Me Another, hosted by Ophira Eisenberg and musically sidekicked by Jonathan Coulton. Tonight was the taping of our first episode.

41990668_10216176104254149_7154692062254727168_nTere Petersen, Dave Szalyga, and I represented Mensa this evening at Brooklyn’s Bell House (that’s them in the picture I took). I also gave brief introductory remarks (see Leon Feingold’s picture of me, below), and then we enjoyed the show, along with Leon and Erin Webreck.

The program they taped will be available as a podcast a week from Friday (September 28), and broadcast that weekend. We’ll be back there next week, for the second of our five episodes.

41938667_10155581748087797_7521936732707618816_oThe staff was very friendly and welcoming, the program was interesting, and the venue fairly comfortable. So overall, it was a good evening.

Oh, and telling a friend about this Sunday night, she said “we love that show!” And pointed me to a song by Jonathan Coulton, one that I listened to this afternoon (before the taping), and then was able to mention to him. He seemed pleased, and I think you, too, will enjoy listening to “Re: Your Brains.”

Convention Weekend (back to Albany)

This coming weekend is Albacon, a science fiction convention in Albany which will be another dose of cognitive dissonance. That’s because this year, Albacon will be at the same hotel I was in last weekend for RechaRGe.

At Albacon, I’ll be at my table in the dealers’ room, launching the new Judith K. Dial & Tom Easton anthology, Fantasy for the Throne: One-Sitting Reads (second in the series). I’ll also be on some panels:

Friday at 5pm: “2001 + 50″ with D. Cameron Calkins, Daniel M. Kimmel, J.A. Fludd, Warner, and Andre Lieven

Friday at 9pm: “Improvisational Storytelling” with Joshua Palmatier, Rick Ollerman, Ryk Spoor, and Barbara Chepaitis

Saturday at 1pm: “Democratization of Publishing” with Eugene Mirabelli, Tom Easton, Pamela Sargent, and Barbara Chepaitis

Saturday at 3pm: “Boys’ Adventure SF: Is It Dead and Gone?” With Debra Doyle, Wendy Delmater, John F. Holmes, Huston, and Jim Macdonald

Hope to see some of you there!

F&SF about The Bend at the End of the Road

76ee412223ff59f82b7e32b3f1ee1014-w2041xCharles de Lint, in the September/October 2018 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, has some good things to say about Barry N. Malzberg’s The Bend at the End of the Road. In part, he says: “…while I don’t agree necessarily with all of Malzberg’s conclusions, I still found these essays to be eminently readable and useful in terms of solidifying my own opinions on the various matters under discussion. There’s also a wealth of history of the field and the wider world at large that comes into play in these writings that I found both fascinating and at times alarming…. So — not for everyone. Or maybe for everyone, but as a wake-up call. Malzberg says in an afterword that this collection is his way of quitting the essay business and saying good-bye. I find that unfortunate, because his is a voice that needs to be heard.”

Convention Weekend

logo-copyThis coming weekend, it’s a Mensa convention. I’ll be at Mensa of Northeastern New York’s RechaRGe Regional Gathering (Friday to Monday) in Albany, New York. Unlike science fiction conventions, there’s no dealers’ room, so I’ll have much more opportunity to just sit and socialize. But I am on the program, twice:

Saturday, at 10am, I’ll be running the RVC1 Meet and Greet. The program book’s description: “As Regional Vice Chairman, Ian Randal Strock is your representative on the American Mensa Committee (our national board of directors). Come talk with him to find out what’s going on in the business of Mensa, and to share your concerns about the organization we all love.”

Sunday, at 11am, it will be a modification of a talk I gave in January to a writers’ group, entitled “You’ve Written a Book: Now What?”. The program book’s description: “The biggest debate in publishing these days is what to do after you’ve finished writing your books: seek a traditional publisher, go with a small press, or self-publish it? Each route has advantages and disadvantages, potential for great success or abject obscurity. Ian Randal Strock has worked both sides of the editorial desk throughout his career in publishing: he’s been an editor and publisher for major houses and small presses, and worked with self-published authors. And as an author, he has sold books to major publishers and small publishers, and self-published some of his work. His prepared talk is on the plusses and minuses of each route to publication, but in this small-discussion format, he’ll welcome questions from the audience to guide the direction of the talk. Within Mensa, Ian is the Regional Vice Chairman representing Region 1.”

Hope to see all you Mensans there!

It Came From Beyond!

icfbMy friend Rachel had an extra ticket, so tonight we saw It Came From Beyond, a science fiction musical.

As a New Yorker, I may be a bit jaded about seeing Broadway productions. It’s not an every-month experience, but not a once-in-a-lifetime experience either. So at first I was a bit put-off by the experience of seeing this off-Broadway show. But once I got into it, I realized it was a charming story with a great script and some very good performances (I particularly liked the range of emotion Vera the computer showed with only the word “beep”).

Writer and producer Cornell Christianson (who produced The Paper Chase) just happened to be at tonight’s performance, and gave a brief introduction. He was also available to chat after the show, but that’s not what you care about.

It Came From Beyond opens in a 1950s middle American high school. Nerdy little Harold is reading the comic book It Came From Beyond, looking for the key to his science project. Jock Steve is just who you’d expect, and pretty Becky is the girl of everyone’s dreams. Becky’s father, Mr. Fielding, is the teacher who catches Harold and Steve at the end of their tiff, and gives them both detention, as well as forcing them to work together on their science project. And then there’s Miss Benson, the cooking teacher who only has eyes for Mr. Fielding, the widower.

As Christianson said in his introduction, his specialty is that he writes musicals “with a unique structure of two parallel and interconnecting stories that go back and forth between two worlds.” In tonight’s show, the characters very adroitly change their appearance or outfit when the story shifts between 1950s high school and the world of It Came From Beyond (glasses on or off, tie on or off, and so on). In that world, Harold is the Professor, whose scientific experiment will save the world from the aliens; Steve is the rocket salesman our jock would probably have grown into; Mr. Fielding is the Colonel, who only wants to bomb the commies first; and Miss Benson is Private Jayne, who only has eyes for the Colonel. Oh, and Becky is… Becky (“she even has my name!”). Backed up by six dancing/singing soldiers, our heroes must save the Earth… once they realize we really are under attack.

Other than a few of the songs running a bit too long, the story was fun and gripping. It’s obvious the author is a long-time science fiction fan from way back (catching the sly little references to the classics and near-classics is a fun little extra to the performance). So I can definitely recommend It Came From Beyond for a fun night Off-Broadway (currently at St. Luke’s Theatre).

Note: I wrote this review before looking at the web site (www.itcamefrombeyond.com). Then I looked at the site, and realized that the earlier performances apparently had much more serious productions, with full sets (the staging at St. Luke’s was minimal to non-existent: three desks, three boxes for sitting, and a handful of props). But as I said above, the story is the reason to go to the show; the staging is only a minor concern.

New England Road Trip

I’ve already announced this in my Mensa circles, but thought I’d talk to a wider circle. This weekend, as Regional Vice Chariman of American Mensa, I’ll be making a tour of three or four of the local groups in New England. I’ll be in Hamden, Connecticut, Friday evening. Saturday evening, I’ll be in Sharon, Vermont. And Sunday will take me to Merrimack, New Hampshire (and/or possibly Littleton, Massachusetts).

A member in Vermont has graciously offered me a spare room for Saturday night, but I don’t yet have plans for Friday night.

Also, Saturday morning/early afternoon, I’m thinking of visiting the Calvin Coolidge Homestead and Grave in Plymouth, Vermont, if anyone is interested in joining me.

Visiting TR’s place

irsatroosevelthouse16aug2018I really like having out-of-town guests. They get me out of the house, give me an excuse to be a tourist at home, and enjoy this wonderful city through their eyes. Today, I got to touring thanks to Mary Chudley.

I was born in New York City, lived here most of my life, and even wrote books on the Presidents, but until today, I had never visited the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Mind you, it’s not in some out-of-the-way, difficult-to-get-to place. It’s at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan. I am literally within meters of the place a minimum of twice a month (I walk along Broadway to get from the subway stop to the place where we go for trivia once a month). I mean seriously, how could I not have visited before?

cartoonattrhouse
Political cartoon at the TR House. At the top, it says “N.Y. State Convention”. The figure on the left is Senator Platt, and on the right, TR.

Well, Mary came to town today, and she had a few destinations in mind, but I mentioned the TR place, said I’d never been there, and she said “Why not? Let’s go!” It was just off the route I’d planned to walk anyway (again, those few meters from Broadway), and it was open. So we went.

The rangers on duty were friendly and knowledgeable, so we looked through the display cases and pictures downstairs, and then joined up with the tour of the upper floors. We saw the house in which TR and his siblings were born, and lived the first 14 years of TR’s life. Saw some of the original furnishings and decor. The ranger leading the tour focused on how our childhood creates the adults we become, while giving the tour in two languages simultaneously. A lot of it felt very familiar, because I’ve just recently finished reading TR’s autobiography, but that doesn’t diminish from the impact of being there. And, in addition to these pictures, I didn’t take a picture of the speech that was in his pocket when he was shot in 1912, which is there, bullet hole and all.

trpen
TR’s pen from the TR House. There are teeth marks at the end.

They don’t have my books in the gift shop (but it is a rather small shop, so I wasn’t miffed — besides, I did see my book at Sagamore Hill when we were there), but other than that, it was wonderful.

Then we continued on the originally planned route: through Union Square, to Forbidden Planet, the Strand, New York Costumes, through Astor Place to St. Mark’s Place, then to Washington Square Park, and back up to Penn Station. A very good day.

Convention weekend

I’m heading to a new science fiction convention! I’ll be at Confluence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 27-29. If you’re there and looking for me, I’ll be spending a lot of hours in the dealers’ room at the Fantastic Books table. The dealers’ room will be open 5 to 8pm on Friday, 10am to 6pm on Saturday, and 10am to 3pm on Sunday.

I’ll also be on programming:
Friday at 7pm in the Commonwealth East room: “How to Self-Publish” with Larry Ivkovich, Andi O’Connor, Jay Smith, and Karen Yun-Lutz

Saturday at 2pm in the Solstice room: “Private Enterprise in Space” with Kenneth B. Chiacchia, Lawrence C. Connolly, Herb Kauderer, and Mark Painter

Sunday at 10am in the Commonwealth West room: “Small Press” with S.C. Butler, Brian Koscienski, Joshua Palmatier, and Christopher Pisano

I’ve got a hotel room reserved for those two nights, but as yet, no roommate. So I’m looking for someone who wants to split the room. Also, I’ve been plotting out the trip. I’m realizing that, in order to arrive in time to set up in the dealers’ room and be ready to sell by the time we open, I’ll probably have to leave home about two in the morning, which will be a LONG day. So now I’m thinking of making it a two-day trip. Anyone in the middle of Pennsylvania looking for something to do Thursday evening, looking to put up a poor little traveling publisher for the night? Or, on the other end of things, want to give me a way-station on the way home Sunday night? Let me know.

American Mensa’s Annual Gathering: exhaustion at full speed

Looking (mostly on Facebook), it looks like a lot of my friends were posting fairly regularly from the American Mensa Annual Gathering. And bunches of them were taking pictures.

I’m home, and I see that I didn’t comment on the events while I was there, and looking at my cell phone, I took precisely zero pictures. In part, that was a conscious decision to experience it all, rather than try to document the experience. The other part is that I was too damn busy.

So this is going to be a fuzzy-memoried recap of four and two-half days in Indianapolis at something that many are calling NerdCamp (though I don’t like that moniker).

After planning for a full night’s sleep before my departure, I of course didn’t get it. Was up way too late preparing for the trip in a variety of ways, so that my last pre-AG night was the same three hours of sleep I was expecting to get each night I was out there. Nevertheless, I made it out to the car in time, to the airport in time, walked the two miles to the gate (seriously, check out this picture https://www.google.com/maps/search/delta+airlines+delta+terminal,+jfk+airport/@40.6368693,-73.7818626,718m/data=!3m1!1e3 . The Delta terminal is the one pointing south, all the way out to the corner of the terminals section, and I was on one of those smaller planes all the way out at the end, at gate 51). Megan Williams and I wound up on the same flights both going and coming, without planning it. And as I’m typing her name, I’m thinking I shouldn’t name names, because there are so many that I know I’ll leave some out, and don’t want to slight anyone.

Anyway, we landed in Indianapolis. My sister and brother-in-law’s flight landed five minutes later, and the four of us took a car into the city and the hotel. After checking in, and settling into my room, I was off to my first session: “How Can Mensa Be Improved?” It was a round-table discussion of the organization, with about half the AMC present and taking notes (for you non-Mensans reading, AMC is the American Mensa Committee, the national board of directors, on which I sit as RVC1 [RVC1 is Regional Vice Chairman of Region 1, a cross between governor of the northeast region and a member of the national governing body]). Hoping it results in some good things. I followed that up with a Communications Committee meeting: very productive. And then the Firehouse Meet-and-Greet (Firehouse is a social group formed on Facebook and growing very large in the lives of its members), which kicked off with a four-piece brass band, a version of Hollywood Squares with audience participation, and a lot of welcomes to people I’d previously only known as tiny little online pictures. Immediately after that was the Chairman’s Reception, a somewhat more elegant gathering for people volunteering much of their time and efforts for the organization. Then I ran into a friend I’ve known a long time, who I only see at Annual Gatherings, and with whom I share a love of fireworks. She had a room on the 31st floor, with a great view of all the fireworks around town, and the main show, just a few blocks away! And since we were inside, it was air conditioned: very nice. I then wandered downstairs, chatted with a few people, and made my way to the poker game (always a good time). Before we realized, it was 2:30 in the morning, and the game broke up, but still, there were people around, and I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 4, which meant (you guessed it) three hours of sleep.

Thursday, I woke at 7 (ugh!) for a morning swim (in that tiny pool!). I’d figured a big hotel like this would have a decent pool, but nope: seven strokes from end to end. So I did a lot of turning to get a little exercise. After a quick breakfast, I scurried in to the AMC meeting (one of the four quarterly meetings we hold to transact the business of this 50,000-member organization with a $4.5 million annual budget). We broke for lunch for LocSecs and other local group officers (drawing on Mensa’s British roots, a LocSec is a Local Secretary, the president of a local group, of which American Mensa has about 130). Then back into the meeting, and a business meeting which was scheduled for 9am to 5pm finally adjourned about 7. It was long, it was tiring, it was productive (I’ll be sharing some of the results in my next RVC column, which will be going out the end of this month). That evening, I’d scheduled an HQ Trivia meet-up, since the trivia game seems to be growing in popularity, and I figured it would be a fun thing to do. Also, it was the only 9pm I had unscheduled. Six or eight of us gathered to talk and play, though none of us won, and we didn’t get the shout-out I’d been hoping for. Then I spent more time with friends I didn’t yet know and others I’ve known forever, and that socializing wound down about midnight, so of course I… headed for the poker game. They had room for me, and I got to play a bit, again, until like 3 in the morning. So once again, to bed about 4.

And once again, Friday morning, up at 7 (three hours of sleep!) for some time in the swimming pool. Friday morning was the Annual Business Meeting, where the leadership of Mensa reports to the members, and the members have a chance to have a say in the direction of the organization. Unlike the AMC meeting Thursday, the ABM was a little less contentious than I’d expected, and ended in time to grab some lunch in Hospitality (the main room for socializing and noshing). Then I got pulled into the cribbage tournament, played one game, and managed to lose it. At 3pm was the Region 1 Meet-and-Greet, and members from all across my region gathered to hear me encourage and laud the efforts of my local group volunteers, to interact with each other, and share their secrets for success. As an AMC member, I attended the Foundation Reception (the Mensa Education and Research Foundation is the non-profit arm of American Mensa, the group that offers research grants and awards scholarships), followed by the Gala Banquet and Speaker (astronaut Dr. David Wolf), followed by the dance. I really enjoyed the dance, spent some time actually dancing, didn’t wear a mask (it was supposed to be a masked ball, but when you wear glasses, masks become very awkward), and I was in the action until 2am. After a quick visit to the SIG suites (smaller versions of Hospitality sponsored by individual special interest groups; a relatively new feature of the AG), I checked in the games room to discover the poker game had long since ended, and I got to bed, once again, about 4.

Saturday, however, I did not have a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting, so I slept in, and actually got about 6 hours of shut-eye (gasp!). It felt good to get a little sleep, but bad to have missed out on a few hours of seeing people. Nevertheless, lunch in Hospitality was my breakfast, and then I sat in on the Awards Ceremony. That was followed immediately by two program items I wanted to attend, so I had to choose one, and opted for the Writers’ Round Table, where a bunch of writers discussed the craft and pain of writing. That was followed immediately by a session on the Changing Face of Regional Gatherings (smaller versions of the Annual Gathering, hosted by individual local groups, attracting a few hundred people), which was a discussion of how to run them, and a sharing of ideas. Then I took a break, because at 7:30 Saturday was my own talk. With Laurie’s able help, I made my way to Ballroom 8 early enough to get the computer set up (and for Laurie to set up the books), and be ready to talk about “John Kennedy’s Grandma, Bill Clinton’s Mother, and John Tyler’s Grandchildren: Familial Oddities of the Presidents of the United States.” It was a new talk for me on a familiar subject, but with lots of new data. I was a bit nervous going in, but the 100 or so people in the audience (which I thought was great, considering it was the last night of the AG) seemed to enjoy it. They didn’t leave early, and after I talked for an hour, they had questions to keep me going for another half hour (though I cut them off a little earlier than that). But it was a very gratifying session. Then I grabbed a little bit of food, and headed up to the SIG suites for a slightly longer stay. My evening (evening? It was after two in the morning by the time I got there) culminated in a visit to the games room, with a long, deep conversation with a few friends (thanks for your points of view, Tara and Chris), and then two games of Splendor, after which we realized it was 4:20, and I made my way to bed.

And you guessed it, woke up Sunday morning after about three hours of sleep, packed, made it to the brunch, and then checked out. I had a few minutes before departing for the airport, so sat in on the “hiss and kiss” session (I don’t like that term much, either), at which attendees tell the AG chairmen what they liked and didn’t like about the AG, along with suggestions for the future. Then it was back to the airport with Megan, back to New York, and about 12 hours of sleep.

Monday would have been completely shot but for a freelance job in the evening, so I had to follow it up with another 10 hours of sleep last night. But now, I think I’m fully rested… just in time to leave New York on Thursday for a convention weekend in Massachusetts. After sleeping every night in June in my own bed, I expect to be home for only 14 of the nights in July. That’s a lot of traveling I’ll be doing.

And yes, I know this is a fairly dry reporting of what the heck I was doing all those days. As I said, to mention the people I interacted with would slight those names I skip, and I don’t want to do that, because they all played significant roles in my enjoyment of the AG. There was a lot of business/work, but I filled the other hours with enough friends and fun to make up for it (and to be honest, I enjoy the work of volunteering, too, so it wasn’t really a struggle). Now I’m home, missing the people I was with, and kind of disappointed I don’t have any pictures. But I’ll survive that disappointment. And after two science fiction conventions this month, I’ll have two Mensa conventions in August, so it won’t feel like a long gap until then.

Upcoming Mensa Convention

I always post my schedule for upcoming science fiction conventions, but I usually note that I spend most of my time at my dealer table for Fantastic Books. Next week, however, I’m going to a different kind of convention, where I won’t have a dealer table. I’ll be at American Mensa’s Annual Gathering in Indianapolis, and over the 94 hours I expect to be there, I’ll be seriously scheduled. If you’re coming to the AG, and want to know where to find me:

Wednesday, July 4
3pm: “How Can Mensa Be Improved?” In the Debate Room
6pm: “Firehouse Meet-and-Greet” Ballroom 1
Night: hoping to see fireworks

Thursday, July 5
9am-5pm: “American Mensa Committee Meeting” Ballroom 10
8:45pm: “HQ Trivia Meetup” Hospitality

Friday, July 6
9am: “Annual Business Meeting” Ballroom 3/4
3pm: “Region 1 Meet-and-Greet” Room: 314
7pm: “Gala Banquet and Speaker” (ticketed event) Ballroom 5
10pm: “Dance the Night Away” Ballroom 5

Saturday, July 7
1pm: “Mensa Awards Ceremony” Ballroom 1
4:30pm: “Changing Face of RGs” Room 209
7:30pm: “John Kennedy’s Grandma, Bill Clinton’s Mother, and John Tyler’s Grandchildren: Familial Oddities of the Presidents of the United States” Ballroom 8: this is my talk, so you ALL better be there!

Sunday, July 8
10:30am: “Brunch” (ticketed event) Ballroom 5

So that’s at least 25 hours already booked, and that doesn’t include an additional five hours of already-scheduled committee meetings (plus inevitable unscheduled Mensa governance activities), and another four hours of friends speaking that I’d like to attend.

Over those four days, I hope to get about 20 hours of sleep. Add in a little time for showering, exercise swims in the mornings, a couple of quick meal breaks, and it looks like I have 30 hours unscheduled over the four days I’m there. In other words: I’m going to be running. Hope I have time to run into you!

And, for the tl;dr crowd: at the Mensa Annual Gathering next week, make sure you come to my talk, Saturday at 7:30pm in Ballroom 8. If you live in Region 1, come to the meet-and-greet Friday at 3pm in Room 314. If you’re interested in how Mensa operates, come to the AMC meeting Thursday from 9am to 5pm in Ballroom 10. And if you’re a member of Mensa, come to the Annual Business Meeting Friday at 9am in Ballroom 3/4.